América limps into ‘Clásico Capitalino,’ Pumas poised to pounce

Diego Valdés (right) will be a game-time decision for América. The Aguilas face UNAM tonight in one of the chippier Liga MX derbies, the "Clásico Capitalino." (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP via Getty Images)
Diego Valdés (right) will be a game-time decision for América. The Aguilas face UNAM tonight in one of the chippier Liga MX derbies, the "Clásico Capitalino." (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP via Getty Images) /
Liga MX Capital Classic
The América defense will have to pay special attention to César Huerta (right), UNAM’s leading scorer with 5 goals through nine Liga MX games. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Most Liga MX fans are no doubt gearing up for the 173rd “Clásico Capitalino” taking place at Estadio Azteca this evening where América will play host to cross-city rivals UNAM.

Pundits project another victory for the home team, but the mighty Aguilas – in second place with 18 points – currently sit just 3 points clear of the 6th-place Pumas.

“Los Azulcremas” know that a victory will boost them back atop the Liga MX table since Atlético de San Luis fell to lowly Cruz Azul on Friday night.

As for the visiting “Auriazules,” they could climb into the top three  with a win over their hated neighbors.

Can Pumas turn the tide?

UNAM has surpassed projections thus far during the Apertura 2023. The Pumas were expected to struggle to reach the Liga MX playoffs, but through nine games, “los felinos” have outperformed expectations. Among their four victories are home wins over league-leading Atlético de San Luis (3-2) as well as over 3rd-place Tigres (2-1).

América is right where we anticipated, riding an 8-game unbeaten streak (5-3-0 and an 18-8 goal differential) into this derby, including wins in both of its other “Classics” – 4-0 over Guadalajara in the “Super Clásico” and 3-2 over Cruz Azul in the “Junior Classic.”

Despite valid criticism for shoddy defensive play, the Aguilas have allowed opponents only 14 shots on goal in nine games (10 of those shots ended up in the back of the net, however).

For their part, the Pumas have allowed 40 shots on net (the most in Liga MX), with goalie Julio Rodríguez parrying aside 27 of them.

To get the result he wants, coach Antonio Mohamed will hope to slow down the potent América offense (second in Liga MX with 19 goals). That will require solid play from center backs Lisandro Magallán and Nathan Silva while defensive midfielder José Caicedo will be called upon to be a one-man wrecking crew in the middle of the pitch

Leading the Aguilas attack will be reigning Liga MX MVP Henry Martín and Julián Quiñones, their big early season signing. This will be the first time the two forwards will start a Liga MX game together.

The dynamic duo might have to make up for the absence of this season’s América MVP, Diego Valdés, the team’s top scorer with 5 goals. The classy midfielder will be a game-time decision and coach André Jardine hinted earlier today that he was prepared to face the Pumas without the Chilean playmaker.

The Aguilas’ first-year coach also told reporters that goalie Luis Malagón and defender Sebastián Cáceres are both still in sick bay. That could mean starts for netminder Óscar Jiménez and a central defense pairing featuring youngster Ramón Juárez and recently acquired Igor Lichnovsky.

UNAM has no such worries and “El Turco” should be free to select the line-up of his choosing.

Quick notes ahead of the Mexico City derby

In 122 previous regular-season Capital Classics, América has come out on top 44 times with UNAM winning just 30. The two rivals played to a tie in the other 48 matches.

The Aguilas also claim the upper hand in Liga MX playoff games, winning 13, drawing seven and losing five times.

The last time the Pumas defeated América in a regular-season match came back on Feb. 17, 2019 (1-0) although the last time “los auriazules” won at Estadio Azteca was a memorable 3-1 win over the top-seeded Aguilas in a quarterfinals match-up that saw 11th-seeded UNAM advance.

Liga MX notes

After 17 years with Cruz Azul, defender Julio César Domínguez lined up against his former team for the first time ever on Friday night.

No doubt, “Cata” was eager to exact some retribution against the club – and Cementeros Nation – that had turned against him (the fans quite vociferously).

Surely there was a bit of satisfaction that his new club came into the match atop the Liga MX standings while the team of his youth was in the cellar.

But the fates were against the 35-year-old Domínguez.

Less than half-an-hour in to the match, “Cata” made a nice recovery, chasing down Ignacio Rivero and deflecting a dangerous cross. But in so doing, the defender pulled a muscle (cue the Sam Malone groin injury rap).

Next. Puebla shocks Atlas; concert forces postponement. dark

Not only did “Cata” have to leave the game – replaced by another former Cruz Azul defender, Jordan Silva – but he had to sit on the sideline and watch his former mates stun the Tuneros in one of the upsets of the Liga MX season.